Northwest Cherry Growers Release the 2021 Round 1 Crop Estimate

Crop Size:  The Northwest Cherry Growers’ Field Estimate team has compiled an initial (“Round 1”) projection for the 2021 Northwest crop.  Annually this 22-person estimation team looks at their orchards as well as the surrounding area’s volume dynamics and compiles overviews for their area. 

Each member submits the data specific to their active growing districts, and then that data is built into an estimation model which represents each of the Northwest’s cherry growing regions.  The model is populated with historical data, growing degree day patterns, acreage shifts, market trends, processing tonnage and in-field assessments, and then uses the Field Team’s input to project a crop for the coming season.  This year, the first round data from the model suggests a 2021 crop of 237,992 tons.

2021 NW Round 1 Crop Estimate: 23,792,000 boxes

However, as always it is important to note that this Round One estimate has the most potential for variance from the eventual and actual size of the crop. Spring was late this year, and while it’s progressing quickly, not all of our orchards are far enough along to determine how much of their crop will remain on the tree.  These “drops” are natural and taken into account in our subsequent estimates.  But that’s not all we can tell from the trees, and the news is good.

Crop Points to Remember – 2021

Based on the best information available at this time:

  1. Harvest will begin in the last few days of May in our earliest sites.
  2. As more orchards & regions come online during the first two weeks of June, volume may accumulate more slowly due to weather-impacted orchards.
  3. While volume may accumulate more slowly, as the end of June approaches we expect shipping volumes to exceed last year.
  4. Supplies for late June and the 4th of July promotions look very promising.
  5. July will be a strong month all the way through.
  6. August will have opportunity for at least one ad this season with projected volume trickling out through the end of the month.

Crop Timing: Based on our accumulated Growing Degree Day data, it appears that AT THIS POINT we are on track for a start that should begin by June 1.  In several of our earliest regions we are only a day or two behind last year, which saw harvest start on the 28th of May.

The accumulation of heat units so far suggest a longer crop, with more typical distribution between the districts than we’ve seen in some recent seasons.  In the chart below, you can see the earlier nature of most districts across the board this year, as well as a healthy range between the warmest (Tri-Cities) and one of the coolest (Wenatchee Hts) growing regions.

The continued and general warm trends of 2021 are best captured in the animated infographic below.  However, it only records hours of daylight within the target range and excludes some of the severe nighttime drops our growers experienced in April. (If you have any issues viewing the animated version, a static chart is available here.)

Gathered by crop year, you can see the similarities in the GDD development across all districts.  This season’s crop has been developing on par with last years but only slightly behind.  The timing and spread between districts also appears similar to 2014, which saw harvest begin on May 31st with just over 11,000 boxes shipped.

The generally optimal weather that’s driving an earlier start to our crop did put a number of growing regions in danger of late frosts and wind storms.  Growers can heat their orchards to some degree, but a few nights of deep-diving temperatures in April reduced some of the early season crop potential.  Additionally, high and sustained winds during bloom appears to have had an effect on pollen viability in a number of orchards, as the subsequent fruit set following great bee activity didn’t produce as many cherries as normal.  If the orchards retained enough fruit to harvest, the good news is the remaining cherries will be exceptionally large and sweet.  However, we expect the combined hits on a number of our early season orchards will result in a slower first few days of harvest as an industry.  As the harvest moves into regions where the crops were not in such a critical stage, we expect to see daily shipment volumes climb swiftly.

Several overnight low temperature drops and strong, sustained winds in the early districts took a toll on orchards near or in the middle of bloom.  The photo above was taken last week in Mattawa, WA.    Sadly, those buds will not become cherries this year.
There is a lot more to cover, but if you’re particularly interested in the different growing regions of Northwest cherry country these next few images will give you a better understanding of how their 2021 progression has aligned with previous crops.  If not, feel free to scroll on to more crop estimate data.
Tri-Cities area in Washington: an early producing region
Hermiston area in Oregon: an early producing region
Wenatchee area in Washington: a mid-to-late producing region
For several years growers across the Northwest have been feeling the effects of a group of pathogens collectively called Little Cherry Disease (LCD).  Though different in nature, this group of viruses and bacteria cause the same results: small, under-developed and bitter fruit.  Researchers have narrowed down their spread between orchards to several insects who carry LCD on their bodies, though the exact method of insect relocation between orchards or spots within an orchard is still yet to be confirmed.

What we do know is that our industry’s orchard practices and packing technology ensure none of the small & bitter fruit is shipped for consumers.  The high quality of Northwest cherries is a standard throughout the world, and we are committed to maintaining that bar.  Even though it’s been an orchard issue for several years, our shipped crop 5-year average is 80 percent 10.5 row and larger, which is an increase over the 10-year and 15-year averages. 

But behind the scenes it’s required some aggressive intervention by our growers.  There is no cure yet, so the only procedure to stop the spread is tree or orchard removal.  Even after removal, the ground must be attended to and the local source of infection must be addressed, otherwise growers risk re-infecting their replanted orchard.  Aside from heavy financial costs, this orchard and tree removal has hit our industry production capability as well.

Collectively, our industry estimates that intervention measures have reduced our potential volume by 2.5-3 million boxes for the coming season.
Marketing: Our Northwest Cherries representatives are connecting with retailers and suppliers around the globe in anticipation of the crop.  In North America, digital promotions remain critical to reaching the massive growth in online shoppers.  However, whether consumers are shopping in stores or online, they all seem to be putting more focus on healthier eating and so are we.  The Northwest Cherry Growers maintains a list of approved health phrases and materials to help retailers draw attention to our superfruits on their shelves.  Moreover, this season will see the largest marketing campaign in our organization’s history…and it’s entirely focused on promoting the health benefits of sweet cherries.  To help align your promotion efforts with this campaign, don’t hesitate to reach out to us directly or contact your NW Cherries representative.  In case you missed our last email with those specific benefits listed out, you can revisit iwww.nwcherries.comt here.
Marketing Points to Remember – 2021Multiple studies show single-bag cherry sales are over 70% impulse purchases. Communicating their availability is KEY to capturing the first sale & the last.42% of cherry buyers bought at least some cherries online in 2020Online shoppers were 2x more likely to be a weekly cherry buyerOnline shoppers were 4x more likely to buy multiple bags of cherriesOver 59% of surveyed cherry buyers were influenced by the health benefits of cherries when they made their decision to purchase last year.

To learn more about our 2020 NWC research studies, click here.